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The first Miocene fossils of Lacerta cf. trilineata (Squamata, Lacertidae) with a comparative study of the main cranial osteological differences in green lizards and their relatives

By Andrej Čerňanský, Elena V. Syromyatnikova

Posted 17 Apr 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/612572 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216191)

We here describe the first fossil remains of a green lizardof the Lacerta group from the late Miocene (MN 13) of the Solnechnodolsk locality in southern European Russia. This region of Europe is crucial for our understanding of the paleobiogeography and evolution of these middle-sized lizards. Although this clade has a broad geographical distribution across the continent today, its presence in the fossil record has only rarely been reported. In contrast to that, the material described here is abundant, consists of a premaxilla, maxillae, frontals, parietals, jugals, quadrate, pterygoids, dentaries and vertebrae. The comparison of these elements to all extant green lizard species shows that these fossils are indistinguishable from Lacerta trilineata. Thus, they form the first potential evidence of the occurrence of this species in the Miocene. This may be also used as a potential calibration point for further studies. Together with other lizard fossils, Solnechnodolsk shows an interesting combination of survivors and the dawn of modern species. This locality provides important evidence for the transition of an archaic Miocene world to the modern diversity of lizards in Europe. In addition, this article represents a contribution to the knowledge of the comparative osteological anatomy of the selected cranial elements in lacertid. This study gives special emphasis to the green lizards, but new data are also presented for related taxa, e.g., Timon lepidus, Podarcis muralis or Zootoca vivipara. Although the green lizards include several cryptic species for which determination based on isolated osteological material would be expected to be difficult, our comparisons show several important morphological differences.

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